For those National Football League teams hoping to strengthen themselves considerably in the next college draft, the news has been bad. Some sports publications have labeled this year's crop of college seniors mediocre at best and certainly lacking in depth at most positions.

Bobby Beathard has heard all this before. He says that almost every year, "For some reason, people want to say the draft is bad. I disagree. I like what I see out there."

As the redskin general manager and one of the games premier talent scouts, Beathard is in a fine position to judge the ability of the upcoming draft.

It needs to be a good one for his club, which will be enjoying the luxury of a No. 1 pick for the first time since Yazoo Smith was chosen in 1968.

"We have some areas we need to strengthen," he said. "One draft won't solve every problem, but it will be a beginning, I'm confident that this draft will produce some good players for us."

While Beathard isn't talking yet about his team's specific needs -- that will come after the season ends -- the Redskins' weaknesses hardly are a mystery.

The team needs, in no particular order, a quick running back to complement John Riggins, a pass-rushing lineman, preferably an end, and a game-breaking wide receiver.

It just so happens that the strength of this year's draft centers around running backs, wide receivers and defensive linemen, at least in terms of quality, if not depth.

"You're talking about Charles White, Billy Sims and people like that at running back," Beathartd said. "Depth everywhere will be a problem, much like it was last year. But this won't be as good a year for linebackers."

Beathard's knowledge of college prospects is contained in two volumes of computer printouts on his desk at Redskin Park. Hundreds of potential pros are listed on those pages, and each has been or will be scouted by Beathard and Washington's personnel department.

Probably no other general manager in the league is as actively involved in scouting as Beathard, the former Dolphin draft whiz. He usually spends at least two days on the road every week, and often up to five days, visiting colleges, watching film and attending games.

"I always approach each draft the same," he said. "We don't take anyone's word about any player. One of our people has to see him in person and on film so we can make a judgement.

"This is a very important time for us. We've got something going and we want to keep it going by getting some more players. There are players out there. It's just a matter of finding and identifying them."

If Washington was seeking field-goal kickers or defensive backs, Beathard might have a problem. He doesn't feel either position is particularly well-stocked in the colleges, nor is he impressed with the depth at quarterback or offensive linemen.

So who is his choice for the first player to be picked in the draft?

"I would have said Anthony Munoz (Southern Cal offensive tackle), but he got a knee banged up and now no one knows if he will play at USC next year or what," Breathard said. "But even if he is in the draft, he won't be the top guy now.

"Now it might be Sims or White. They've got ability and a good track record. Or maybe Brad Budde (Southern Cal guard). It's hard to say, because it will all depend on who drafts first and what players they feel they need."

The Redskins' high choices will be dictated by two factors: their needs and that old standby, the best available athlete.

"It's like putting together a puzzle," Beathard said. "You know the players you like, then you see who is available when your turn comes. You decide what positions need strengthening more and which ones might still be helped by later-round choices.

"There are always surprises. But we think we can identify some players maybe other clubs have overlooked. If we can, make the draft a real good one for us."

Here are some of Beathard's choices as the top players available in the draft, again in no particular order:

Running Backs: Sims ("He has good speed and strength") of Oklahoma, Perry Harrington of Jackson State, White of Southern Cal, Vegas Ferguson of Notre Dame, Curtis Dickey of Texas A&M.

Wide Receivers: Lam Jones of Texas, Ralph Clayton of Michigan, Fred Nixon of Oklahoma, Raymond Butler of Southern Cal and Eugene Bird of Michigan State.

Offensive Line: Budde ("He's been well-coached and has great ability"), Tim Foley of Notre Dame, Stan Brock of Colorado, Munoz, Irv Pankey of Penn State, Jim Ritcher of North Carolina State.

Tight Ends: Junior Miller of Colorado, Doug Marsh of Michigan.

Defensive Line: Jim Stuckey of Clemson, Curtis Grier of Michigan, Rod Horn of Nebraska, Bruce Clark of Penn State, Matt Millen of Penn State, Doug Martin of Washington, Rulon Jones of Utah State.

Linebackers: Dennis Johnson of Southern Cal, Otis Wilson of Louisville.

Defensive Backs: Darrold Ray of Oklahoma, Johnny Johnson of Texas, Dave Waymer of Notre Dame, Roland James of Tennessee, Mark Haynes of Colorado.

Quarterbacd: Marc Wilson of Brigham Young, Paul McDonald of Southern Cal, Mark Malone of Arizona State.